Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michael Flaherty's education forum in Roslindale and a tale of two geeks

Probably like a lot of you, I recently received a flier in my mail slot that said, “THE SCHOOL LOTTERY DOESN’T WORK!” It was an invitation to a Q&A forum with mayoral candidate Michael Flattery and his running mate Sam Yoon. Since I write a blog on the lottery system, I felt obligated to attend an event with a title so provocative.

It wound up being part Q&A and part rah-rah political rally -- not too surprising since we’re just over a week away from the election.

In the initial part of the event, there was a lot of gloom and doom about the current state of our school system. Certainly, the dropout rate is high, and there’s a lot that could be better (e.g., more K1 spaces, better infrastructure at some schools, more efficient bussing system). From a political standpoint, I get it. In order to beat incumbent Thomas Menino, they need to get voters to think that the status quo is terrible (on all fronts) and that they have a better way to run things. But something wasn’t sitting well with me as they were talking.

It took another parent to identify that feeling. She said she had several children in BPS. Over the course of registering her children, she visited 17 public schools and she said she would be satisfied sending her kids to any of them. (Parents across the room asked for her list.) She asked whether Flaherty and Yoon were worried that they might scare prospective parents, like myself, from wanting to send their kids to BPS. Ah yes, that’s the feeling I was getting. Complete anxiety.

I feel like during this registration process, I have two little Geeky Mamas on my shoulders. One is the bad Geek who once a year pores over MCAS scores, listens to parents’ stories about being unassigned, looks at the current middle school options, and then screams in my ear, “OH MY GOD!”

Then there’s the good little Geek who diligently visits schools and is impressed by the students, teachers, principals, and parent involvement. That Geek calmly whispers, “See, everything is going to be ok.” I just need to take a deep breath, have an herbal tea, and visualize bunnies hopping through a meadow. And have a solid back-up plan.

Now to the substance of the forum. Flaherty said he would keep the lottery temporarily.

He is proposing getting off current zoning system. Currently 50% of students at a school are required to live within a school’s walk zone (1 mile for elementary schools). Certainly, a school can have more than 50% walkers, but half is the minimum. Flaherty proposes “within a year or two” incrementally raising the percentage of walkers at schools. BPS tried to increase the walk zone to 60% last year and got some pushback, so they kept it at 50%.

Flaherty said that three elongated assignment zones don’t work. Students have to sit on buses too long. In short, it sounds like he wants to take a neighborhood schools approach. Of course, that requires improving schools in all neighborhoods or there become issues of inequality.

He said he wanted to tap into the city’s bond rating to borrow money for capital improvements for schools, e.g., mold, leaks, windows, roofs, as well as building new schools to cope with increased demand.

And I believe I heard him say he wanted full-time K1 for everyone and more citywide schools. BPS seems to be getting away from citywide schools. They recently turned Mission Hill and Young Achievers into zoned schools.

And finally, they’re looking for more transparency in the lottery system, more school-based management, more charter schools, and for waste reduction in the system.

1 comment:

Michael Pahre said...

More city-wide schools doesn't go along with the idea of switching to neighborhood schools to save money on transportation.

As long as the city has city-wide K-8 schools, BPS acknowledges that they have to provide similar busing for kids in charter, parochial, and other private schools. Part of the $10 million cost savings in the proposed switch to the 5-zone plan was a reduction in the extent of busing charter and parochial students.

So if Flaherty wants to save money by decreasing the sizes of zones, he should realize that he can't simultaneously roll out city-wide K-8 schools.